ATLANTA — Georgia and Tennessee joined a string of states moving to enact tough abortion restrictions when Republican House lawmakers passed bans on most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
During a tense debate in Atlanta on Thursday, several Democratic lawmakers opposed to the bill turned their backs to its author, Republican Rep. Ed Setzler. Earlier in the day, some Democratic lawmakers brought in wire coat hangers in reference to unsafe home abortions.
Setzler said his bill "seeks to recognize that the child in the womb, that is living distinct from their mother, has a right to life that is worthy of legal protection."
The Tennessee House passed similar legislation earlier Thursday after its Republican supermajority forced an end to debate without letting some Democrats speak. Several other states including Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina are also considering this type of legislation.
If the measures in Georgia and Tennessee win Senate approval and are signed into law, they would trigger immediate legal challenges.
Abortion opponents across the country are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court — with new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will either reverse Roe v. Wade, or uphold specific state laws that could undermine the court's 1973 ruling establishing the right of women to abort a fetus that can't survive outside the womb.
Democratic Rep. Renitta Shannon, speaking against the bill and about her own past abortion, went over time and her microphone was cut off. She refused to yield the floor until colleagues surrounded her and implored her to walk away.
Before her microphone was cut, Shannon spoke about the illegal and unsafe abortion options women faced before Roe v. Wade.
"Let's be clear, no matter what kind of law you pass to outlaw abortions, women will continue to seek and have abortions," Shannon said.
Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat is generally detectable at around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
The bill would make exceptions in the case of rape and incest, but only when the woman files a police report first. It also allows for abortions when the fetus is determined to be not compatible with life due to serious medical issues.
Setzler previously said he had "misgivings" about those exceptions, saying that "those children are just as innocent as others."
Republican Rep. Darlene Taylor asked a rhetorical question: "Who speaks for baby fetus?"
"Today I do," Taylor answered, as she read a prepared speech as if she was a baby fetus that did not want to be aborted.
Democratic Rep. Mike Wilensky said the bill clearly violates the constitution.
"We know that this bill is unconstitutional. We know that there are going to be huge costs to litigate this," Wilensky said.
The fast-tracked bill came to the floor in the final minutes before a legislative deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one house or the other to remain in play for the session.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who pledged as a candidate to sign the toughest abortion laws in the country, endorsed the proposal in a news conference after its passage in the House, but said there is more work to be done in the Senate.
"I value life and I proudly support this legislation, which protects the right of the unborn at the heartbeat," Kemp said.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee has said he would sign the Tennessee bill, downplaying constitutional concerns as an issue for the courts, not his office.
Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say they'll continue to fight the bill and for safe access to abortion in Georgia.